Why are marble sculptures so important in Italy?

The Vatican Museums and galleries are bursting with astonishing marble sculptures. It has been one of the most popular material in sculpture, starting since the invention of metal tools in the Bronze Age. Many great artists throughout history have used marble to deliver us some of the most famous and beautiful sculptures in the entire world. But why has it been used so much? What makes this material better and more significant in history?

Characteristics of Marble

Marble is a metamorphic rock with many unique properties that make it the perfect material. Not just for sculpture, but for architecture, paint, and chemical uses. There are three marble types, then the pure white Carrara marble being the main one used for sculptures. The sculpting of this material was relatively easy as it was soft when first quarried. Giving artists room to mould the form over a period of time. Gradually, the material becomes extremely hard and dense and turns to an unbreakable stone structure left in the form the artist has created permanently. The material forms a waxy, shiny look if polished, giving the stone an almost soft human appearance. This gives a perfect finish for the artist’s human figures, as the soft delicate looks of the form can contrast beautifully with the hard marble the artist is left with.  

Italy’s History with Marble

Ancient Roman sculptors have been known to have two types of marble sculptures; either portraits or copies of Greek bronzes. The portraits started in the Republican era and were of powerful people including political leaders and historians. These were usually only of the top half of the person, either being a chest up or merely the face and neck. During the Imperial Roman period, the roman artists became increasingly inspired by the Greek Style. They started doing marble replicas of the Greek bronze sculptures. These replicas have outlived many of the original bronze artworks they were based on. The Renaissance period was a booming time for marble sculptures in Italy, with famous masters such as Michelangelo using it religiously. A famous description of marble was uttered by Michelangelo in this time, stating how his role was to slowly chip away the form that was trapped inside the block. Marble has made a lasting impression on Italy, with some of their most famous works being marble structures.

The most Iconic Marble Sculptures in the Vatican City

Pietà by Michelangelo

Michelangelo has dozens of iconic sculptures spread across Italy. But one of the most beloved within the Vatican City at St. Peter’s Basilica is the Pieta. the artwork was commissioned by the Jean de Bilheresa and was used as the cardinal’s monument during his funeral. The piece portraying Jesus in his mother Mary’s lap after the crucifixion. It has gone down in history as the only sculpture Michelangelo ever signed.

Laocoon and His Sons by Rhodes sculptors Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus.

The marble replica to a Greek bronze piece is sure to take anyone’s breath away. Depicting three figures, the centre being the Trojan priest Laocoön, surrounded by his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, with all of them being attacked by sea serpents. Visit the Museo Pio-Clementino within the Vatican Museums to see this great beauty in person.

Belvedere Torso

Despite this piece only being a small fragment of the human form, it was quite significant. Portraying only a male torso, with textured edges ending the form abruptly. It represents how the ancient world moulded the style of pre-modern art. The marble artwork dates back to the 1st century BC and is understood to be merely a copy of the original.

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